LA: Must Sees & Maybe Passes

I figured since I did one for New York, I might as well do one for LA! I just came back from my second-ever visit to Los Angeles.  Colin, his mom and I were there at the end of March for a quick week of sight-seeing and relaxing on the beach.  Read on for the highlights and lowlights of our itinerary!

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Uber
PROS: Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that Uber is a popular ride-share program.  You also know that LA traffic and transit are notoriously horrible. Uber was absolutely our saving grace.  We got all around LA, from Anaheim to Venice Beach, via Uber.  We saved a ton of money and met some interesting drivers – from world travelling photographers and ex-racecar drivers to our very own LA tour guides.

CONS: We don’t have Uber in Vancouver.  The worst part of Uber is that we couldn’t bring it home with us.

VERDICT: Uber is definitely the way to go when visiting LA.  It’s cheaper than taxis (and sometimes cheaper than renting a car) and way more convenient than public transit.  I couldn’t be a bigger fan. Uber, please come to Vancouver!

The Farmer’s Market
PROS: The Farmer’s Market has been a staple in LA since it opened in 1934. I really loved this space – so many stalls with all different types of cuisine.  We sampled gumbo, pizza, gyros and bbq in our two visits and barely cracked the surface.  Plus, it’s a covered outdoor market so we actually got to eat next to a giant tree.

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CONS: It’s not your traditional Farmer’s Market – it’s more like a diverse sprawling foodcourt.  And I do wish we had done a bit more research to make sure we hit up the best stalls.

VERDICT: Definitely check it out! There is something at the Farmer’s Market for every taste bud.

The Grove
PROS: The Grove is the beautiful outdoor shopping centre right next door to the Farmer’s Market.  There are lots of shops and a gorgeous fountain right in the middle.  I love that LA weather is so pleasant and rain-free that an outdoor mall is actually a viable option.  An outdoor mall in Vancouver would be open for max 2 weeks a year.

CONS: While the Grove is beautiful, it’s also beautifully expensive.  We were pretty much priced out of all of the shops.  But we did enjoy lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, splurging on a Michael Kors purse for Colin’s mom and window shopping.

VERDICT: If you can afford it, definitely check out the Grove for some fun shopping.  And even if you can’t afford it, it’s still a fun place to visit.

Trader Joe’s
PROS: I know Trader Joe’s isn’t LA-specific but I could wax poetic about this US chain until the cows come home.  I love Trader Joe’s.  I love the fun snacks, chalkboard signs and funky re-usable bags.  But most of all, I love that they sell wine for $2.49!

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CONS: Again, the biggest con is that we don’t have this wonderful chain (with its wonderful liquor prices) in Vancouver.

VERDICT: Always go to Trader Joe’s. Always.

Going to a show taping
PROS: We went to a taping of The Late Late Show with James Corden (we were hoping to see Ellen but she wouldn’t give us tickets).  It was fun to be at a live taping and see how the production of a show comes together.  James Corden was hilarious and we really loved seeing his guests Sam Heughan (yum) and Luke Bryan (yummier). Plus, we were on TV!

CONS: There were so many lines! We arrived at 2:30 and stood in line (outside in the sun) until past four.  And then we were brought through security only to sit in another line.  We were taken upstairs to the studio where we, you guessed it, stood in line, until they finally took us to our seats.  Another con, musical guest Rita Wilson performed her song not once, not twice but three times.  There are certain songs I would love to see performed three times in a row – this was not one of them.  Also, we didn’t get any free swag 😦

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VERDICT: If you’re prepared to wait a while in lines, it can be a fun experience. It would probably be best if you’re really into the musical guest, just in case they have to perform 3+ times.

Universal Studios
PROS: We decided that instead of Disney, we would go to Universal Studios during our trip.  This was a great call since Disney is way busier and neither Colin or I particularly enjoy rides.  Universal was amazing! We went to a bunch of shows to see stunt people, special effects, animal actors, etc.  We went on the studio tour and got to see lots of movie sets, more special effects and even sat through some 4D rides.  But the best part was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  We had checked online before our trip and saw that TWWoHP wasn’t opening until April 7th and we were leaving on April 5th. But when we arrived at Universal, we were told that it had been “soft open” for a few weeks! Actual tears came to my eyes. I was so excited! I literally skipped into the magical world and was just blown away by the whole place.

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Butterbeer!

Butterbeer!

CONS: I thought I would be listing long lines here but strangely enough our Saturday visit to Universal Studios was not too busy at all. So I guess I would say the cons of the day would be the food (overpriced and lacklustre, which is to be expected of fast food at an amusement park) and the one ride we went on: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. As I mentioned above, neither Colin or I are ride people.  We don’t do roller coasters, heights, and you would probably have a hard time even getting us on a merry-go-round.  However, we decided to be brave and try the Forbidden Journey.  There were a bunch of cool Harry Potter artifacts along the way, no lines and many ride-goers had assured us it would be nothing like a roller coaster.  They were right.  It was worse.  Needless to say, we did not enjoy ourselves.  I spent the entire ride muscles straining to hold on as tight as possible to my seat, eyes practically glued shut and silently willing myself not to cry.  We made it through, but I don’t think we’ll be risking it on any other rides again soon.

VERDICT: Universal was great! I would definitely recommend it. I think it’s better for an older crowd and there’s tons to see/do if you don’t love rides.  If you’re happy to skip meeting Mickey Mouse, this would be my recommendation.

Hollywood Tour
PROS: We took a tour on our second day in LA.  It picked us up in Anaheim and drove us around to Venice Beach,  The Santa Monica Pier, Rodeo Drive, The Grove/Farmer’s Market, the Walk of Fame and then back to our hotel – all for $50! It was a great way to see a lot of LA in one day. I particularly liked our stroll along Rodeo Drive and seeing all of the stars on the Walk of Fame.

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CONS: The timing seemed a bit off.  We got off for an hour at the Santa Monica Pier – not during meal time or when the amusement park was even open – but only half an hour at the Walk of Fame.  We also wished our driver had pointed out some more sights to us during the drive.

VERDICT: I’m usually not a fan of tour buses but if you’re short on time and want to see the highlights of LA, this is a great way to do it.  It was nice to not have to worry about transportation or where we needed to go.

Anaheim Ducks game
PROS: So our initial reason for going to LA was actually to watch our Vancouver Canucks play the Anaheim Ducks.  Actually, this was Colin’s reason.  I can’t really condone going all the way to LA to watch a hockey game, but it was a fun experience.  And the Canucks won!

Go Canucks Go!

Go Canucks Go!

CONS: It’s kind of hard to cheer against the home team.  I missed being able to cheer along with the crowd.

VERDICT: If you happen to be in Anaheim during hockey season and you’re a fan, sure, take in a game!

LA Clippers game
PROS: Our next professional sporting game was in the famed Staples Center and we got to cheer with the home team.  I love basketball and haven’t been to a live NBA game in a long time so this was a real treat for me.  Plus, the tickets were fairly cheap and the Clippers won!

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CONS: We wanted to see the Lakers, of course.  Unfortunately, we got priced out of that game.  Sorry, Kobe 😦

VERDICT: I might be a bit biased here since basketball is my favourite sport and we don’t have a team to watch in Vancouver, but I would definitely recommend taking in a game and cheering on the home team!

Olvera Street
PROS: This street is tucked away behind a large church by LA’s Union Station.  It’s referred to as the Mexican Market because it’s home to stalls and stalls of Mexican food, clothing and other wares.  As someone who has never been to Mexico, this was a pretty cool area to explore.  We ended up buying some beautiful blankets (for only $10!) and snacked on churros while listening to a travelling mariachi band.

CONS: As authentic as the stalls looked, I resisted my urge to buy some of the traditional Mexican items.  I would prefer to buy them in Mexico! So, I guess this isn’t really a con, but more of an increasing desire to travel to Mexico!

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VERDICT: Again, as someone who hasn’t actually been to Mexico, I really loved this little market and think it’s a great LA stop.

Marina del Rey & Venice Canals
PROS: The canals themselves are actually pretty cute.  They’ve got nothing on the Amsterdam canals but there are lovely homes all along and a bunch of little bridges.  It’s a quaint little community and sort of hidden off the main streets.

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CONS: The marina, on the other hand, was a pretty big let down.  We walked for quite some time to get there and then were pretty disappointed when we realized we had made it.  Maybe we didn’t go to the right part?

VERDICT: See the canals.  Skip the marina.

Venice Beach
PROS: We spent the last three nights of our trip at a beachfront hotel on Venice Beach.  It was awesome! The beach itself is beautiful – not too busy, great waves and nice warm sand.  And then the boardwalk and Venice Beach culture is so eclectic.  I loved walking around and seeing all of the vendors, street performers and shops.  It was the best place to stay and so much fun to explore.

Colin & his mom getting their wave frolick on!

Colin & his mom getting their wave frolick on!

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CONS: While we didn’t run into any issues, I probably wouldn’t recommend any midnight strolls in the area.  The locals are definitely fun and seemingly harmless but even when we went out after 8 looking for a late dinner, we ran into more open tattoo parlors than pizza shops.

VERDICT: Absolutely check out Venice Beach – and sample the fish tacos by Muscle Beach! They are, as the sign says, the best in Venice Beach.

The Santa Monica Pier
PROS: The Santa Monica Pier is really fun.  As soon as you spot the iconic ferris wheel, you know it’s going to be a good time.  There are lots of people, vendors and amusement park rides and games for all.  And, best of all, off the end of the dock you can spot seals and (so I’m told) dolphins!

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CONS: The pier is well-known and therefore, flooded with tourists and overpriced vendors.  I wouldn’t suggest it for too much shopping or dining if you can avoid it.

VERDICT: Being the end of route 66, it’s iconic, so you might as well see it. But I would go mainly for the seals 🙂

In N Out
PROS: Well, at least we can say we checked off a California must? All of our Uber drivers told us we couldn’t leave LA without trying In N Out.

CONS: I wish we had left this one out. I’ve had In N Out twice before and was not impressed either of those times. I don’t know why I thought this time would be any different. To be honest, the food is nothing special (sorry, Californians!). And to make it worse, we decided to go lie in the sun afterwards to let the gross food really take its toll on our bodies.

Yuck.

Yuck.

VERDICT: Hard pass.

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Los Angeles was a great trip.  It was so nice to spend six days with Colin and his mom, to be in the constant presence of palm trees and to not have to worry about work or school or anything else.  We fit in a lot of fun stuff but also made time for relaxing on the beach and watching TV back at the hotel.

Since coming back to Vancouver in 2014 to finish my degree at UBC, I haven’t done a lot of big travelling.  It was  a change to be more settled and to not have future plans to move to so-and-so foreign country for 1-6 months.  But I have had so many other great life experiences and opportunities.  And I’ve really started to embrace the idea of local travel.  As much as I want to jump on an international plane every time I see a flight deal posted, with work, rent and two weddings this summer, I know it’s not realistic.  And I’m learning to be okay with that.  I still plan to see a lot of the world – there are so many countries I can’t wait to explore.  But in the meantime, there’s a lot of my own backyard to see.  The last time I went to LA, I was 12, so this was kind of like a first trip for me.  It was fun to play tourist and go on a little adventure, even if it was only a 2 hour plane ride away.  And we have other plans this summer to head down to Seattle, do our Calgary roadtrip and possibly even fit in a trip to Montreal when we’re back in Toronto.  So yeah, lots to see around here while I save up and countdown to the next big trip 🙂

New York: Must Sees & Maybe Passes

Way back in August of 2015, Colin and I went on our first trip together. We started it off by meeting all of my friends and family in Toronto and then exploring New York City.  It was both of our first trips to New York so we wanted to see as much of The Big Apple as August humidity would allow.  Below is a list of some of the main spots we went to, why they were awesome, why they sucked and what we would do differently next time.

*Disclaimer: there was a lot of New York we missed so this list is by no means comprehensive!
**Another disclaimer: despite not being comprehensive, it’s still a fairly lengthy list. You may need to break for water while trying to get through it. 

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Grand Central Terminal (not Station)
PROS: Grand Central Terminal (only tourists call it Grand Central Station) was our first New York stop. The building itself is gorgeous and so iconic from all of the movies it has featured in.  There is also a cool room with “whispering walls” that is worth checking out and a pretty sweet food court in the basement.

CONS: I had this overly romantic idea that I would pull Colin into the middle of a throng of busy commuters and kiss him passionately as if we were getting on two different trains. Only, the throng of commuters ended up being a bunch of overtired tourists staring at maps and busily snapping photos.

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VERDICT: Definitely an easy stop to check off your New York bucket list but at the end of the day, it’s just a train station.

Shake Shack & Magnolia’s Bakery
PROS: Shake Shack and Magnolia’s are two of New York’s most iconic food chains.  And they definitely produced solid food.  We enjoyed our burgers and cupcakes.

CONS: But we didn’t enjoy them that much.  Maybe all of the hype had raised our expectations or maybe we visited the wrong locations but we weren’t blown away or rushing to visit either place again soon.

VERDICT: If you happen to be passing a Shake Shack when you’re in the mood for a burger, sure, head in and grab one. Or if you’re a cupcake connoisseur and want to scope out the original Magnolia’s Bakery location, why not? But if you visit New York and don’t make it to either, I don’t think you’re missing much. (Native New Yorkers, please don’t kill me! I also don’t think much of California’s beloved In-N-Out, if that helps.)

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
PROS: Full disclosure, the sweet frigid air conditioning wafting out of this place is what initially drew us in.  But it ended up being a really fun time!  We loved posing with all of the celebrities and sipping on the frozen margaritas we bought (in souvenir cups, of course).  And there’s actually quite a bit to see!

CONS: It’s definitely not the cheapest place to visit.  You get a very clear feeling that you’re walking right into a tourist trap as you hand over your credit card.  And I assume the original Madame Tussaud’s in London, with the never-ending line to get in, is way better.

Ahhhhh!

Ahhhhh!

Looking fierce with Kim K

Looking fierce with Kim K

VERDICT: If you visit New York in August, this is an amazing place to get out of the heat.

Time Square
PROS: Um, it’s Time freaking Square! The most iconic landmark in New York! Our first visit to Time Square was actually in the middle of a downpour.  You’d think that would make it on the cons list, but it actually was a huge pro.  Firstly, it helped break the disgusting humidity. And secondly, we got to watch crazy tourists do cartwheels through puddles and huddle under a yawning with local mascots Batman and Spiderman.  After it was all over, the Square had pretty much cleared out so we could snap pictures and marvel at the signs to our hearts’ content.

Hanging with the NYPD in Time Square!

Hanging with the NYPD in Time Square!

CONS: Because it’s so iconic, you know it’s going to be packed.  That’s part of the magic, so you just have to embrace it.  Also, everything within eyesight is marketed to tourists and you’ll be paying way more for it.  We had the pleasure of overpaying for a pretty gross Italian meal just off of the Square.

VERDICT: You definitely need to see it.  You don’t, however, need to eat anywhere near it.

Alice’s Tea Cup
PROS: You’re probably wondering what this is.  It’s not a New York landmark.  It is a hidden gem that Colin found for us one morning.  It’s tucked between some adorable brownstones on the Upper West Side and features the most extensive list of teas.  It’s an adorable place for lunch, brunch or high tea.  Also, if you bring a small child there, they will offer her fairy wings to wear during her meal.

CONS: No one offered me wings 😦

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VERDICT: If you can get there, I definitely recommend it for a brunch date.  It’s a great local spot and nearby to all the museums and Central Park.

American Museum of Natural History
PROS: This museum is INSANE.  Honestly, if we had actually stopped to read every plaque and check out every exhibit, we would probably still be there.  The place was fascinating.  Bonus: it’s pay-what-you-can so is definitely affordable.  Double Bonus: their air conditioning game was real strong.

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CONS: It is A LOT to take in.  I get museum-ed out after about an hour or two.  I think we lasted three hours in this place but I was definitely feeling it by the end.

VERDICT: If you’re into museums, it’s a great one to hit.  Plus, you can pretend like you’re Ben Stiller and co from Night at The Museum!

Central Park
PROS: Again, so iconic! And maybe the only truly green space in the whole city.  I love how huge this park is and that there’s something for everyone.  We really loved the John Lennon memorial (across the street from the hotel where he died and where Yoko Ono still lives), Bow Bridge and Bethesda Fountain (the fountain from Friends!).

CONS: It’s highlights are it’s downfalls – the park is just so big! We were there for quite some time but we barely saw any of it.  Also, it’s very hard to explore a park in gross weather, especially when you’re coming from a beautifully air-conditioned museum.

Bow Bridge in Central Park

Bow Bridge in Central Park

VERDICT: Definitely go to Central Park.  And if you can go when it’s not sweltering or freezing out, all the better.

Mets game
PROS: I’m not a huge baseball person but I had an amazing time at the Mets game! I bought a shirt and Colin bought a hat so we could truly support the team.  There were tons of fans so the atmosphere was electric.  And they won, which didn’t hurt!

Go Mets!

Go Mets!

CONS: It’s a bit of a ways out of the city.  It’s not too hard to get there by transit but it is a long ride.  And, of course, it may have been more iconic to see the Yankees play.

VERDICT: If you are into baseball, I would definitely recommend it.  I can loan you my shirt 🙂

Staten Island Ferry
PROS: In preparation for our trip, I searched through all of my favourite travel blogs for NYC tips.  One that kept coming up was taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry and I’m really glad we did.  First of all, the ferry is FREE! Nothing in New York is free so that in itself was cool.  And you get the most amazing view of the Statue of Liberty from the boat.

CONS: Because it’s free, and used by non-tourists for actual commuting, it’s pretty busy.  We went early and still had to push through the crowds for a good sightline to Lady Liberty.  Also, there is nothing to do in Staten Island (sorry to any natives! But I’m right, aren’t I?).  They enforce all passengers getting off the boat so we literally walked off the ferry and then joined the line to walk right back on.

VERDICT: If you have the time, this is definitely the cheapest way to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty.  If you have the money and interest to see her up close and personal, I’d suggest a boat tour instead.

Brooklyn Bridge
PROS: This was probably my favourite part of New York.  I love bridges! I don’t know why but I think they are so beautiful and love being able to walk across them.  In fact, the only New York photos I have printed and framed are of the Brooklyn Bridge.  The bridge itself is gorgeous but it also offers some amazing views of Manhattan.

CONS: It’s not a short bridge.  And there are lots of other tourists, vendors, bikers, etc. on it so expect some crowding.

One of my top 3 fave bridges

One of my top 3 favourite bridges

VERDICT: If you’ve brought the proper footwear for bridge walking, I definitely think this is a must for a trip to New York.  Plus, unlike Staten Island, there is actually stuff to do on the other side!

NY Pizza
PROS: What’s more New York than authentic New York pizza? I did my research on this one too and had us try two different places: Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn and 2 Bros Pizza in Manhattan.  Grimaldi’s was delicious! Honestly, it rivals the pizza I ate in Naples (different, but almost as delicious).  And 2 Bros was simply known for being tasty and cheap ($1/slice!), which it was!

CONS: Grimaldi’s is an authentic pizza place – right down to their long waits, slow service and lack of air conditioning.

He loves that I'm using this picture of him :)

He loves that I’m using this picture of him 🙂

VERDICT: You have to try authentic New York pizza when you visit New York.  I’m not 100% sure we went to the very best places, so I would suggest doing some research first.

Broadway
PROS: If you know me (or have read any of my blog posts in London), you know that I love musicals and Broadway. The greatest allure of New York for me was the chance to see a show on Broadway.  We lucked out and got to see two shows very affordably.  We visited the TKTS booth and scored cheap seats to Hedwig and the Angry Inch and then Colin won us two seats to Book of Mormon during the daily ticket lottery!

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CONS: There are no cons, it’s Broadway.

VERDICT: I think taking in a Broadway show is an essential part of the New York experience. Luckily, we got to do it on the cheap.  Not everyone gets to win the Book of Mormon lottery (of course Colin wins on his first time meanwhile I lost every time I entered in London).  But the TKTS booth is a great way to score cheap seats.  They don’t have all of the shows but you can check out the listings online.  Also, pro tip: visit their location near Water St and not the one in Time Square to avoid the lines.

Top of The Rock
PROS: After some more careful research, we opted to do Top of The Rock instead of Empire State for our view of the city.  I’m really glad we did, though I can’t say we definitely made the right choice since I have nothing to compare it to.  But we decided to do Top of The Rock because it was less busy, less expensive and included a view of the iconic Empire State building.  It’s sort of like when people go to Paris and go up the Eiffel Tour to see the view – you’re missing the most iconic building in Paris in your view because you’re standing in it! We also decided to do our Top of The Rock experience at night.

CONS: While I listed it as a pro, I think going at night was also a con.  Don’t get me wrong, we got amazing views of the city all lit up.  But I’m sure we missed out on the awesome sunset view.  Also, it’s not such a good time if you’re not into heights.

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VERDICT: I really enjoyed the experience and the view but I don’t think I would fork up the cash to do it again.

 

Places we just saw the outside of (and that was okay):
The following places were only outwardly graced with our presence – aka we stood on the opposite street corner and took a picture. And, to be honest, a picture from the outside was all I needed.

  • The MET, Radio City Music Hall, 30 Rockefeller Center, Wall Street (Raging Bull, Trinity Church, New York Stock Exchange), Empire State Building, Flat Iron Building, Tiffany’s

Places we just saw the outside of (because we couldn’t get in):
The following places were places we wanted to see but due to early closures, long lines, expensive admission, etc. we were unable to. Until next time!

  • New York Public Library, Serendipity Cafe, Yankee Stadium, World Trade Center Memorial (tour)

 

*****

And that was our New York trip! I knew I would get around to posting about it at some point 🙂 We had an amazing time and saw a lot in only a few short days. I would love to go back (and score tickets to Hamilton!) sometime soon.  But there are also lots of other amazing places on my list to see!

Down by the bay

This past weekend I decided to tack on a few vacations days to our Family Day holiday and spend them down in San Francisco (aka Frannie) with some lovely ladies who I first met in Amsterdam a year ago!

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Carlie and I ventured down from Vancouver to meet our friends, Stephanie and Candy, who both live in Frannie and go to San Francisco State.  I’ve been to Frannie before but it was Carlie’s first time. And lucky for us, we had our own tour guides! It was the perfect way to see the city: enjoying the tourist highlights while also getting a bit of a local perspective. And while the forecast called for mostly rain, we did luck out with some awesome rays of sun. My blissful 5 days in Frannie were filled with friends, sights, fabulous food, photos and so many laughs.  It was an awesome way to catch up with people I haven’t seen for a while and recharge before going into a pretty busy stretch at work.

And here is Frannie in photos:

Alcatraz!

Alcatraz!

Chilling with the sea lions on Pier 39!

Chilling with the sea lions on Pier 39!

It doesn't get more Frannie than clam chowder in a bread bowl on Fisherman's Wharf

It doesn’t get more Frannie than clam chowder in a bread bowl on Fisherman’s Wharf

JUMP! Our classic "jumping shot" from Europe made it to the Golden Gate Bridge.

JUMP! Our classic “jumping shot” from Europe made it to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Take me back to the beach please!

Take me back to the beach please!

<3

According to Candy, the most authentic Mexican tacos in all of SF!

According to Candy, the most authentic Mexican tacos in all of SF!

Welcome to the Castro district!

Welcome to the Castro district!

That one time we ended up at a comedy show in a hidden bar in the Mission

That one time we ended up at a comedy show in a hidden bar in the Mission

One of my favourite Frannie neighbourhoods with my other favourite: a puppy!

One of my favourite Frannie neighbourhoods with my other favourite: a puppy!

Winding down Lombard Street!

Winding down Lombard Street!

Golden girls by the Golden Gate

Golden girls by the Golden Gate

The stunning view from Twin Peaks! Our first sight of Frannie was off to a good start :)

The stunning view from Twin Peaks! Our first sight of Frannie was off to a good start 🙂

The gorgeous Moraga steps!

The gorgeous Moraga steps!

And I’m off again!

So after anticipating a slow travel year for 2015, what with my full-time job in Vancouver and no convenient school holidays to take advantage of, it struck me that I’m already off to a not so slow start.

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In less than 24 hours, I’m headed back to Toronto (wasn’t I just there?) for a week of training at Free The Children HQ.  I’m pretty excited to go through this FTC process and meet a bunch of new long-distance colleagues in our Toronto office.  But I’m a little nervous for keeping up with my on-going work in the Vancouver office at the same time.  And the onslaught of out-going people I’m sure to meet is a little daunting.  However, I am really looking forward to catching up with a few friends and family members during my short 5 day visit.  If only the frigid negative temperatures could stay away for those 5 days!

And then I’ll be back in Vancouver for a week and a half before taking off to… San Francisco! I found a pretty cheap flight (less than $200 roundtrip, leaving from Bellingham) and wanted to take advantage of our Family Day long weekend.  It was a fairly spontaneous decision, and I’m sacrificing 3 vacation days (of my 10 for the year), but I’m so stoked to be going to SF.  I first visited “Frannie” back in 2012 with my mom.  In fact, it was one of my first blog posts and moments of solo travel.  I’m really excited to revisit a city that I love and to spend time with some awesome friends who call Frannie home.

I cross back into Canada during the wee hours of the morning on Feb 10, only to return to the States two days later! This time, it’s for work.  And, it’s only to Mount Vernon (2 hours from Vancouver).  But I’ll be meeting with some of my Washington State youth and educators for the first time and get to practice some facilitation skills. Plus, I’ll be going down with my Team Washington crew and rumour has it we might stop at the outlet mall on the way back 🙂

Granted these upcoming trips (to Toronto, San Francisco and Mount Vernon) kind of pale in comparison to where I was headed in Jan/Feb of 2014 (5 days in Iceland before moving into my new apartment in Amsterdam and spending a long weekend in Milan).  But that’s okay.  Now that I’m more settled, I anticipate many more small trips to closer places.  There are a ton of places around Vancouver I’ve only been to once (like Victoria and Whistler) or haven’t explored at all.  And with my position at FTC, I have the opportunity to head down to Seattle a few times a year.

That’s not to say I’m turning my back on big trips and far off cities.  My scratch-off world map isn’t going to scratch itself! But I do plan to appreciate the more local travel opportunities that I can take advantage of at this point in my life.  I get to be a tourist in my own backyard and keep the ever-present travel bug at bay!

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Holy blog updates, Batman! Seriously, this is like the 3rd post I’ve written this week! I doubt I’ll keep up this publishing schedule, or stick to any schedule religiously, so bare with me during my wordy weeks 🙂 

5 cities in 5 weekends

I’m midway through an epic 5 week experience where I spend each weekend in a different city. I didn’t plan it this way but it somehow worked out that from May 4 – June 1 I will spend my Saturdays in 4 different countries and 5 different cities.

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Seattle

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Driving down to Seattle!

On May 3, I went down to Tukwila, Seattle with Free The Children for our second (and my last) Youth Summit. We got to stay at the beautiful Sheraton hotel in downtown Seattle, dine at our go-to restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory, and put on an amazing Youth Summit for some inspirational young leaders. It was the perfect ending to my co-op term! It still feels pretty weird not to be making youth calls or trekking down to the office for 8:30am. I miss my co-workers way too much but I hope to be back on FTC payroll in the future!

Toronto

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to fly home for 4 wonderful days. I got to catch up with lots of friends and family, watch movies, eat too much good food, celebrate Mother’s Day and remind myself what spring in Toronto really feels like (hint: cold!). I didn’t think I’d be home again until October and I had missed being able to go home in February so this visit was definitely needed. They sent me back to my much warmer Vancouver with lots of love and support for my big summer adventure!

Vancouver

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My apartment! Not the best photo but still adorable 🙂

This weekend I’m back in VanCity! This is my last week in my own apartment, taking classes at UBC and not working or travelling. It’s been really nice having my own space. The simple pleasures of a double bed, my own bathroom and en suite washer/dryer are not to be underestimated. While I have managed to burn almost every meal I’ve cooked, it was nice to get a feel of independence. I’m looking forward to living in this beautiful city again in the future.

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I ❤ Vancouver!

London

Next weekend I will be across the pond in LONDON! I’m taking a bit of an extended layover in the British capital for 4 days of royalty, musicals, churches, museums and parks. I fit in a lot of London last year but I’m excited to check out some of the places I missed. I’m currently in the midst of planning my itinerary and booking accommodation – I’m open to any suggestions!

Manzini, Swaziland

And then, by the first weekend in June, I will be in Swaziland! Unfortunately, I don’t know too much about this part of my journey. I fly into Johannesburg, South Africa on the 29th and into Manzini, Swaziland on the 30th. I’ll have a few days of orientation and then be introduced to my host family and community organization where I will be working. I’m excited to travel to Africa for the first time and be able to contribute to a project on the ground for 3 months. It’s a little difficult to prepare when I don’t know exactly what’s coming but I trust that the experience will work out. At least I hope so!

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Stay tuned for my next post, most likely coming from an airport terminal (probably not) near you!

A step in the right direction…

….towards ADVENTURE!

I write this from my hotel room in San Francisco!! (aka “Frannie”…. it’s a thing, I swear)

Now, granted, “Frannie” is not a huge leap from my base in Vancouver or even my hometown of Toronto.  But, it’ll do for my limited budget and 5 free days from work/school.

So, here I am! A different country and by myself (until my mom arrives tomorrow morning that is).  Already, it’s been a bit of an adventure and I’ve only been in SF for 6 hours!

To start things off, my mom was supposed to meet me at the airport (she’d be flying in from Toronto and arriving an hour before me) but she missed her flight.  It wasn’t the most brave thing I’ve done, but I am proud that I managed to only pay $17 to take a shuttle to my hotel. I didn’t get lost. I didn’t get ripped off. And I managed to get them to let me into my room even though everything was booked under my mom’s name.  I didn’t have to deal with a foreign language or anything but I’ve also never navigated a new city entirely alone.

Then, I had a night to myself! It was kind of cool. I explored the area around my hotel: Fisherman’s Wharf. It was really cool and I’m definitely seeing the beauty in Frannie but it’s definitely tourist-central! There’s a wax museum….I felt like I was in Niagara Falls!

But I made the most of it! Well, the most a non-drinking-age, fairly tired, alone person could make of it. I bought really cheap postcards (6 for $1? Hell yes!). And I tried the famous and fresh seafood chowder in a bread bowl. It was delicious, albeit overpriced, and the leftover bread wasn’t really my style, but still enjoyable.  I walked along the pier and checked out a submarine and wicked cool view of Alcatraz (or, at least I think it was Alcatraz…).

Think that's Alcatraz over there?

I visited the famed Boudin Bakery.  They’re famous for being the founders of Sourdough bread. (Note: I didn’t actually try the bread, but it looked cool.)  There’s a conveyor belt-type thing that goes along the ceiling carrying baskets of bread. And, they make bread in all these cool shapes! There were lobsters, turtles, alligators and bears!

From there, I crossed over and visited Walgreens. Lame, I know but pretty cool for a Canadian! I bought toothpaste (I knew I had forgotten something!) and Ghiradelli chocolate.  SO delicious and pretty cheap! I’m going to have to stock up!

And then I went to In N’ Out Burger! I’ve been hearing stories of this place forever.  Reports of celebrities who blow off award show after parties to instead feast on the goodness that is In N Out.  So, I was pretty well ready to bite into the most heavenly version of beef since to filet minon.  Wrong.  Needless to say, I was not impressed.  The only impressive thing was that the cheeseburger only cost me $2.75 (after tax!).  Besides that, nothing special.  (Note: I’ve since been told that the Fisherman’s Wharf In N Out is not the best one…I’m hesitant to believe it.  Also, apparently you have to know what to order, but I only saw 3 things on the menu!)

From there I headed back to my hotel. I chilled out for a bit – ate my burger, watched “Drive” (RyGos = gorgeous, the movie = kind of gruesome/I think I missed some crucial plot points and villain introductions) and polished off most of the chocolates.  Thanks to that, and the Cinnabon I had enjoyed at the airport, I decided to hit the gym!

I love when hotels have gyms.  And I love them even more when they’re empty, and have every machine I love (including free weights!). I took this opportunity to try out the treadmill.  Yes, you read that right, I never use the treadmill.  At my gym in Vancouver the treadmills are intimidating, used by insanely fit marathon-trainers (or so they seem) and the wait for them is a mile long.  But tonight I had 2 treadmills to myself and an empty room free of judgement (save the enormous wall-to-wall mirror). It was a rough start but I found a good rhythm and jogged for a bit.  My feet really hurt, and I was a sweaty mess after, but it was cool to say I did it. I may want to do it again!

So, that pretty much concludes my first day of adventure.  Tomorrow, I’m planning to try out this breakfast joint recommended to me that’s around the corner.  And then I want to head down to Pier 39 and see the sea lions! And I want to try one of those trolley cars where you get to stand on the outer ledge – super badass/quaint as it gets.  Hopefully, my mom will have made it here by then.

Happy Adventuring!